Sometimes you agree with your inner criticism and believe that the aspects of you it is targeting are, in fact, something you should get rid of. You may, for example, dislike your own aggression, stubbornness, weakness, envy, jealousy, pride, desire, or some other thing, you believe you would be better off without. As mentioned in sections 3.4.2 and 3.4.3, the aspects of yourself you criticise will often be the ones you criticise in others, and if your criticism is severe enough, you may experience and believe that the quality you dislike is wholly absent in yourself – even though it is more plausible that it is merely successfully repressed and pushed out of consciousness by your criticism of it. Whereas you may be inclined not to disengage from inner criticism you agree with (and possibly even define yourself in terms of), it is still highly recommendable to do so. Cutting yourself off from any aspects of yourself, regardless of how horrid it may appear to you, will inevitably make your inner world a more unsafe place to be and prevent the quality in question from blossoming and making a positive contribution to the fullness of you.
Thus, a tenth way of disengaging from inner criticism is to willingly connect with whatever emotion, thought, or behaviour you dislike in yourself. In a way, the two previous methods are special cases of this method, since both loss/lack and pain/vulnerability are likely to be aspects of your inner life you dislike and try to get rid of. The key to connecting with aspects of yourself you dislike is to relate to them through felt sense alone instead of through your ideas of them. The reason for this is that your ideas are biased against these aspects and will, therefore, prevent you from perceiving their true nature – just like conceptualising an experience as a loss or a lack prevents you from perceiving that the true nature of this experience is peaceful stillness and the conceptualisation of an experience as pain prevents you from perceiving that the true nature of this experience is healing inner tenderness. When you perceive the true nature of an aspect of yourself you dislike, you realise the treasure in this aspect and your dislike of it will dissolve – thus, you will have disengaged from inner criticism.
The method step by step
To disengage from inner criticism by embracing the felt sense of parts you dislike in yourself, you can begin by identifying some aspect of yourself that you are critical of. It may be your aggression, your shyness, your insecurity, your sexual desire, your interest in gossip, or even your self-criticism. Alternatively, you can identify some aspect you vehemently dislike in others – assuming that you probably contain the same aspect yourself, only successfully repressed.
Once you have identified such an aspect, you can imagine that you are reaching out your hand to touch it and feel what it is made out of. In other words, you pay attention to the felt sense of the aspect you have chosen to explore. Because you initially dislike this aspect in yourself, you are likely to describe the felt sense with negatively laden words. You may feel your aggression as evil, your insecurity as a yucky puddle, your sexual desire as slimy, your interest in gossip as fake and flimsy, and your self-criticism as hard and unbending.
However, as in the previous two methods, it is important to describe the felt sense of the aspect you explore in neutral sensory words. Using neutral sensory words removes the negative judgement from your description and helps you to focus your attention on the felt sense alone – stripped of prejudice. Then you might notice that your aggression may feel forceful and energized, your insecurity may feel soft, tender or even spacious, your sexual desire may feel vibrant and smooth, your interest in gossip may feel bubbly and light, and your self-criticism may feel unmovable and solid. Remember that felt sense often initially will be vague and difficult to describe, but as you let your awareness rest on the felt sense, it will slowly come into focus, and you will find the words to match it.
As you become familiar with the aspect you would normally judge in yourself (or others) in terms of the felt sense of it; you may begin to notice that the felt sense it-self is not unpleasant. In fact, you will often begin to notice that letting your awareness rest in this felt sense has some very positive effects on you. Resting your awareness in the felt sense of the forceful energy of your aggression can make you feel strong, un-afraid, alive, and capable. Resting your awareness in the softness, tenderness, and spaciousness of your insecurity can make you feel at ease, relieved, and free. Resting your awareness in the vibrant and smooth feeling of your desire can make you feel satisfied and fulfilled. Resting your awareness in the bubbly and light feeling of your interest in gossip can make you feel happy and joyful. Resting your awareness in the unmovable and solid feeling of your self-criticism can make you feel safe and grounded. You may at this point notice that the method discussed in section 4.2.5 Path 5: Owning back the strength and vitality of the inner criticism is also a special case of the method discussed here. In section 4.2.5, you owned back your strength and vitality exactly by paying attention to the felt sense of an aspect of your-self you probably dislike, namely, aggressive self-criticism.
When you begin to notice the felt sense of the part of yourself you initially disliked, you are likely to start feeling more friendly towards it and more inclined to connect with it. You will be more likely to recognize and value this part’s qualities. It can feel like getting to know someone you thought you didn’t like and discovering that they have qualities you like very much. The awkward guy may turn out to be extremely kind once you get to know him. The arrogant woman may turn out to be exceptionally insightful once you get to know her. When this happens, you will naturally disengage from your criticism of this part of yourself because you see that your criticism of it was merely a habitual judgment based on a lack of connection and understanding of the true nature of this part of you. It was neither inner guidance nor rationality.
As you embrace more and more of the parts of yourself you used to dislike, you will discover that you have no inner enemies – no parts that are inherently negative or destructive. There are no parts of you; you need to get rid of, change, control, or repress. There are only parts of you that create problems because they operate in isolation, separate from the rest of your parts. Thus, seeing these parts as inherently bad and rejecting them only increases the isolation and the problematic behaviour. The more a part is seen as inherently bad and rejected, the more isolated it becomes. The more isolated a part becomes, the more problems it can create for the whole system and the easier it is to see it as inherently bad and reject it. Connecting with the felt sense of a part is a way of breaking this vicious cycle. Connecting with the felt sense of any part is a way of acknowledging this part, seeing its qualities, and listening to the part from an appreciative space where you assume that it is valuable, good, and precious. When any part is given this kind of space and attention, it will blossom into its full potential and bring its gifts to the inner community. Building a relationship to any part in this way allows it to teach you its secrets and share its powers with you.
When you disengage in this way, you will, of course, connect with a variety of different inner felt sense states depending on which aspect of yourself you embrace. However, there are three inner felt sense states that are likely to emerge in you regardless of which part of you, you are embracing. As usual, these very same states are also what enables you to embrace parts of yourself you otherwise dislike. It is possible to see these as three different paths, but since they are all focused on bringing into awareness the felt sense of parts you normally reject in your-self, I have chosen to present them together in this section.
The felt sense of curiosity
The first inner state is the felt sense of light, engaged, turning towards, which you know from situations where you are curious, playful, innocently inquisitive, and maybe a bit silly. It is the kind of light and friendly engagement you have with things when you feel happy and joyful.
When you explore the felt sense of a part of you, you normally dislike, you are likely to discover new things about this part of yourself. You may notice that your laziness is surprisingly smooth and soft. You may notice that your jealousy is wonderfully energetic and has a sharp and spicy taste. You may notice that your stubbornness feels solid and immovable. As you start discovering these things, you are likely to become even more curious. Eventually, your curiosity may take over, and you forget your dislike of the part you explore.
Thus, you can disengage from inner criticism of parts you normally dislike in your-self (and in others) by being curious about the felt sense of these parts.
The felt sense of contactfullness
The second inner state is the felt sense of being smooth, juicy, full, and substantial, which you know from situations where you feel you have a good connection with someone else or where you feel relaxed and contactfull and open for making new connections. You may also know this inner felt sense from situations where you feel a strong sense of positive, personal engagement in something and from situations where you feel sensuous.
With this inner state, your felt sense perception is enhanced. Your face becomes all eyes, and your eyes become all hands – to use a line from the Sufi mystic and poet Rumi. The taste for contact greatly enhances your ability to connect with the felt sense of parts in your-self (and others) you normally dislike. The choice to connect with such parts in yourself is already the opposite of inner criticism since the somatic basis of inner criticism is to push something away or to pull away from that something.
Thus, you can disengage from inner criticism by choosing to connect with the felt sense of a part you would normally distance yourself from.
The felt sense of intimacy
The third inner state is the felt sense of soft and peaceful closeness, which you know from moments of intimacy. You may also know this state from situations where you have set aside all preconceived ideas about someone and met them directly in the moment. Intimacy is what happens when you meet your experience without the intermediary of concepts and ideas, and it feels close. This inner state is generally a bit more quiet than the previous two.
The capacity and willingness to be intimate with parts of yourself you would normally pull away from will greatly enhance your ability to reach out and place a hand on these inner parts of yourself and feel the felt sense texture of them. Once you feel this texture, you are likely to feel a great sense of intimacy with that part.
Embracing the felt sense of parts, you dislike in yourself (and others) can be a powerful way of disengaging from inner criticism, when you do so from an inner place of curiosity, contactfullness, intimacy, or a combination of these.
Further comments on the method
When exploring the felt sense of a part of yourself you dislike, it is important to distinguish between the felt sense of your hostile attitude towards the part and the felt sense of the part itself. Sometimes, when you turn your attention to the felt sense of a part of you that you do not like, you may find that this inner aspect of you appears to feel tense. If, for example, you turn your attention to the felt sense of your aggression, your first impression may be that aggression feels tense. However, such tension is most likely the felt sense of your dislike of the part, rather than the felt sense of the part itself. Similarly, as you are exploring the felt sense of a particular inner part, you may feel an inner push. Again, this inner felt sense may be the felt sense of your desire to change the part, rather than the felt sense of the part itself. Thus, getting to the felt sense of the part itself can be a bit of an art because you have to distinguish it from the felt sense of your dislike of the part and your desire to change or repress the part, etc.
A good trick to bring into focus the felt sense of a part you dislike is to ask your-self: What would it feel like in your body if it was no problem at all that you have this part? If, for example, you criticise yourself for being lazy, ask: What does it feel like to be lazy if there are no negative consequences of being lazy? If you criticise yourself for being too vulnerable, ask: What does vulnerability feel like if it was completely safe to be vulnerable? If you criticise yourself for being jealous, ask: What does jealousy feel like if being jealous creates zero negative consequences for you or if you lived in a society where jealousy was encouraged and seen as a good thing? If you criticise others for being shallow, ask: What does shallowness feel like if it didn’t create any problems?
Another good trick to bring into focus the felt sense of a part you dislike is to make the connection time-limited. If you tense up when connecting with the felt sense of a particular part of yourself, imagine that you will only connect to it for thirty seconds – or even less. Usually, the knowledge that if you still don’t like it after thirty seconds, you can go back to judging and rejecting it, makes it possible to relax and connect with the felt sense. And even noticing the felt sense of the part for a single second without the habitual judgments can be enough to transform your perception of the part you are exploring and disengage from the criticism of this part.
If you have experienced a lot of external criticism in your life where you were pushed to think or feel something different than what you thought or felt, then there is a risk that connecting with parts you don’t want to connect with will too closely resemble that demand of having to change what you think and feel. It is important to note that this method is not about demanding that you like everything in yourself. This may well be the end result of using this method, but it has to develop organically – and not be forced upon yourself as a new ideal. Your dislike of certain inner parts is in itself a part that you can be curious about, connect with, or be intimate with.
If you grew up with parents who saw problems in everything, this method can offer a very welcome break from the seriousness and the worry that comes with such a view on the world.
– Identify a part of yourself which you dislike. For example, a thought, emotion, or behavioural pattern
– From a state of curiosity, contactfullness, or intimacy, describe the felt sense of this part using neutral sensory words. Distinguish the felt sense of the part from the felt sense of your dislike of the part and your desire to change it. Ask what the part would feel like if it is no problem to have it, and if you only had to feel it for a short while.
– Notice the effects of letting your awareness rest in the felt sense you have just described.
– Notice how you feel about this part of yourself after connecting with it and becoming more curious about it, connected and intimate with it.